Q&A: From parkourist to data analyst — how upskilling launched a tech career

Bailey Shaw, a 23-year-old parkour expert with no tech background or college degree, was able to land an entry-level job with a software vendor where he spent the next year learning low-code development tools. He's now a junior data analyst.

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With the unemployment rate hovering just above 2% for tech workers, companies are focusing their recruitment efforts on skills-based hiring and dropping college degree requirements.

Among middle-skilled occupations, the openings that require college degrees are for the most part similar to those for which no degree is required, according to a recent study by Harvard Business School’s Project on Managing the Future of Work and the Burning Glass Institute.

“Jobs do not require four-year college degrees. Employers do,” the study noted.

Many companies are now turning to internal training programs and internships to prepare motivated workers for jobs in IT. Not only does reskilling or upskilling existing staff fill a development void, it also aids in employee retention, as learning new skills has been found to be a top priority among workers.

One such example is RizePoint, a Salt Lake City-based quality management software provider; it built out an IT training program to offer business-side employees the opportunity to master in-demand skills and fill critical tech roles. The company, which has about 50 employees, worked with online learning platform Codecademy and over the past year was able to fill several open tech positions with existing employees.

bailey headshot Bailey Shaw

Bailey Shaw

Bailey Shaw, 23, had been working in an entry-level customer service position at RizePoint before becoming the first employee to go through the company's tech training program. In about a year, he was able to learn four low-coding skills and is now a junior data analyst.

Before joining RizePoint in April 2020, Shaw had worked at a number of non-tech jobs, including as a professional parkourist and freerunner, where he made money as part of a team that produces online videos.

The following are exerpts from an interview with Shaw.

What were you doing before joining RizePoint? "Directly before RizePoint, I was a collections agent for a medical debt collection agency. I did that for about nine months. Before collections I worked at PepsiCo doing two different things. I worked in the warehouse to make some extra money at night during the graveyard shift. And during the day, I was a merchandizer going around to all the stores and setting up displays. I did that for about a year and a half. Definitely not technology."

I understand you were a stuntman for a time. What did you do in that career? "Before PepsiCo, I was on the world’s largest freerunning and parkour team for about six years. After getting married and having kids, it was time to settle down."

It’s not easy caring for kids when you have broken bones — did you ever break a bone doing parkour? "I had 48 broken bones through that career. I still do it on the side as a hobby. The Team was called YGT, an acronym for You Got This; it’s just one of those things we’d yell out to each other before every trick."

So, how did you land a job at RizePoint? "My brother-in-law worked in the TSR [technical service] position I had applied for and he let me know he was leaving the company for another sales position. I ended up applying to RizePoint, but they said no the first time. I applied two or three more times and then finally went in for...an interview nine months later and I just nailed it."

i Bailey Shaw

How long have you been at RizePoint and how has your tech career progressed? "I started in April 2020 right as the pandemic and shutdown hit. Because of everything going on, I really wanted to prove myself to them. So I told my boss, I know your training program is three months long, let me do it in a month to prove to you I’m serious.

"I ended up completing the course and all the training in three-and-a-half weeks.

"I just started to fall in love with the company and the people, the environment and the drive of the executives. It matched my own drive. That propelled me to want to learn more and so I learned the front end and the back end. I wanted to learn how everything worked so I could do a better job — even if another person’s position had nothing to do with mine.

"Funny enough, after a little bit, I was on a call with...my current boss, and my mentor; he was a senior developer, and I saw them working within SQL Server and I just loved watching what they were doing. I loved the code and I thought it was the coolest thing. So, I started reaching out and asked what will it take to progress in that?

"I did have to go up through a chain of three different promotions to get to where I currently am. I had to first become a beginner in SQL, JavaScript, HTML, and CSS. After learning those four, I had to go back and take some more courses through Codecademy and Pluralsight, and that got me to an intermediate level in SQL, JavaScript and HTML.

"Right after I completed that, I went right back to the senior developer team and said, 'Hey, I’d like to continue to learn about [Microsoft] Power BI. Can you get me something more specific to that?' They pitched to me the idea of taking MicroStrategy courses, so I began going online looking for every bit of information I could on to learn what data analytics is what we were doing, and that propelled me to buying the courses at MicroStrategy and completing my certification through them.

"Around the same time I was doing that, RizePoint came back to me and said, "You’re doing a great job and we love your drive, and we’d like to get you started in our internship program." Between the internship, Codecademy, Microstrategy and PluralSight, I was able to gain all the knowledge I have in a year."

How difficult was it to learn the low-code platforms? "I started with Codecademy and, as with any new experience, I had to keep a strong and consistent drive in order to make any sense out of it. Though it’s a low-code language, learning to speak to a server can be like learning any language. Overall, It was more difficult than easy, but once you understand the basics, the growth from there is exponential."

How long was your internship at RizePoint? "It was a six-month internship or what they called a 'Success Path' to prove all the necessary skills and show I had all the certifications to show I knew what I was doing. I did it for four and a half months and that’s when I got my certification. The CEO connected with me and said it was perfect timing because 'I need a couple dashboards and reports built.' They ended up being huge projects. I was able to knock them out in a week."

What are you doing now at RizePoint? "My current title is a junior data analyst. Right now, I use use SQL Server Management Studio [SMSS] and MicroStrategy to run all sorts of analytics for our wide variety of clients — from McDonald's to Little Caesars all the way down the line. What I mainly do is pull up all the data they need to understand what locations are struggling the most, and what locations need a little more help, but also just for performance analytics with the new clients. I manipulate and manage the data to make sure they have everything they need so our CSRs and TSRs now have what they need to provide better help to the client."

What’s the difference between CSRs and TSRs? "So, TSRs are a little more technical; they handle the big problems and have a little more outreach with their training. CSRs are more of a purely front-end, and they handle more of the basic needs of our customers."

You must have had some technical chops to be able to do the TSR job. What was your tech background? "Funny enough, all of my tech background came from just growing up and playing around with computers here and there and learning how to do things on my own. Just about all of my technical knowledge came after I just came into the company [RizePoint]. I told them I’m willing to do whatever it takes and I’ll work my butt off. So, when I started here, I studied, and studied, and studied — sometimes 12 hours or 14 hours a day to make sure I could do my best. Other than that, professionally or through any sort of schooling, I didn’t have any technical background."

So do you have any college or university degree in another discipline? "I do not have a degree."

What technology do you use on a day-to-day basis? "Our top platforms and software that we use would be our MicroStrategy, Power BI, and also SQL Server Management Studio."

What was the most difficult part of learning your tech skills? "For me personally, I’ve always had the drive for things I found interesting. The actual learning for those things wasn’t so difficult. It was the amount of time I had to put in to understand these things thoroughly, as well as the pathway RizePoint has provided. I was one of the first to go that pathway in order to progress and move up. It was completely unlaid out. We were trying to figure out the best ways to do things to ensure I was up to speed in understanding all the concepts before moving on. So, I’d have to say the hardest part was management of the progressive path, and having a full understanding of it, and managing the time on that path."

Tech companies are more often removing college degree requirements from job postings. How do you feel about that? "I have mixed feelings on this. I don’t feel a degree is always helpful. I know multiple people in this field that have degrees and still have very little knowledge and experience in what they’re doing. But, I’ve also seen the opposite. I do feel a degree shows more of a person’s drive than knowledge and experience."

Do you believe it’s good that companies are focusing more on skills-based hiring versus degrees? "Yes. I do believe it creates an easier and more efficient environment for everyone."

Where do you hope to be in two years? "My current pathway is I’m going back for more schooling. I’m hoping to go back for my business management degree, as well as to get my [software] architect certification through MicroStrategy. I’m also hoping within the next few years to become a senior BI developer and understand more than just the analytics but fully understand how to work the programs and how to program the projects."

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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